TAM LIN AND THE ORIGINS OF
THE SURRENDER OF LADY JANE
or “Where I Didn’t Get My Ideas From”
by Marissa Day
All things considered, traditional ballads and broadsheet songs are not a fertile source for good Romance. Seriously. If you are a hero or a heroine in, say, a Child ballad, your odds of successfully achieving the Happily Ever After are really, really small. You’re far more likely to be betrayed by your lady love over a very small misunderstanding, which will cause you to die of a broken heart (Barbara Allen). Better yet, she could kill you herself over a badly timed joke and have her servants throw you in the backyard well (Proud Lady Margaret). On the heroine’s side, you could be accidently shot because your lover turns out to have bad eyesight and you’ve got an unusually large apron (Polly Von), or the guy you thought was going to marry you could show up already married to another woman, after which she kills you, which causes him to kill her follows that up with his public suicide at the wedding feast (Fair Ellen). Alternately, you could elope with a guy who turns out to be a serial killer and have to chuck him in the ocean and then talk your parrot into not ratting you out (The Outlandish Knight).
Mothers are particularly hazardous to your Trad. Ballad couple. Your mother could leave your true love out in the cold (The Lass of Roch Royal), or you could get the double whammy where your mother curses you, and then the heroine’s mother leaves you out in the cold (The Drowned Lovers). Fathers aren’t any good either. They tend to do things like follow up the arrangement an advantageous marriage for you by trying to perform a public confirmation of your virginity, forcing you to either die of embarrassment or turn into a tree (The Arbutus). For an exciting variation, there’s the possibility that your husband will murder both your shapeshifting lover and your son (The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry), or you could just get murdered by your jealous brunette of a sister on general principles (The Twa Sisters).
Of course, this is not a problem limited to the Scottish and British ballads. Do not even get me started on the dope slap needed by all the players in the traditional Appalachian ballad “The Long, Black Veil.” I’m telling you, it is just not a grand ballroom of glamour and romance out there.
And yet, it was a traditional Ballad that furnished me with the basics for THE SURRENDER OF LADY JANE. The ballad was “Tam Lin.”
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